Monday, March 14, 2011

Early Modern Serial Killer

A few years ago I came across a story about a lycanthropic serial killer in late 16th-century Germany.  His name was Peter Stubbe, the “Werewolf of Bedburg,” and the authorities tortured and executed him in 1589.  Were it not for an illustrated pamphlet describing his crimes, arrest, and execution, we'd have no record of his gruesome deeds.  I was always curious about the story, wanting to know more and viewing the laconic accounts of his murders with a skeptic's eye.  Do any court records of these crimes exist?  Any letters or eyewitness accounts?  For a quarter of a century Stubbe raped, killed, and cannibalized about sixteen women and children in the area around Cologne, as well as his son, whose skull he cracked open to feast on the brains.  Allegedly, he’d rip out the throats and entrails of people and livestock with his bare hands, coming upon his victims in the shape of a demonic wolf creature in a forest or meadow.  I say allegedly because I'd like to see corroborating documentation, not because men aren't capable of such evil acts.  One thinks of Andrei Chikatilo and Ed Kemper, for example.

Under torture he confessed to being a werewolf and also claimed that the devil provided him with a magical belt that caused the transformation.  His daughter, Beell, was complicit in his crimes, but we don’t know if she participated willingly or under duress.  Katherine Trompin, Stubbe’s lover, was also an accomplice.  The governing authorities burned the two females alive.  For Stubbes, a monster from hell, however, his captors thought a more excruciating death more appropriate.  They tore out pieces of his flesh with hot pincers, crushed his arms and legs, decapitated him, burned his body, and, finally, stuck his head on a pole.  The local magistrates never found the magical belt that Stubbes claimed to have discarded when the authorities pursued him through the woods with their bloodhounds.  But if the basic outlines of this story are true, they did find a sixteenth-century Jeffrey Dahmer.